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NYC sick leave legislation provides admirable model

Seth Ellingson, Contributing Writer
April 23, 2014 • 465 views

As college students, when we get sick we have the ability to stay home from classes with little penalty.  Yet, for most of the American workforce, that is not the case. However, New York City is making headway with a new law that requires paid sick leave.  To be honest, it’s about time.

The new law comes in conjunction with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to stem income inequality in New York City.  Along with universal Pre-K and higher taxes on the wealthy, paid sick leave for workers represents just one facet of the growing progressive policies being discussed across the nation.

The law specifies that companies with five or more employees must provide paid sick leave to workers.  On top of that, the law also allows employees to take leave to tend to family members who are sick, a boon for single mothers.  As a result, 1.2 million workers in NYC will be covered under the law.

This law provides relief for customers and employers as well as employees.  Before the law’s passage, employees either had to tough out the flu and come into work or lose a hefty portion of their paycheck.  Now, you don’t have to worry about the guy who makes your sandwich getting you sick, at least in NYC.  Furthermore, employers may not be fretting over the cost of the law because it only covers employees of longer than three months.

While this law is good news for the Big Apple, the federal government should take note of its effect.  Something like this law should be applied across the nation.  Although paid sick leave may not be as effective as a boost to the minimum wage, it does give the nation a little taste of what progressive policies can do.  Besides, we all use the many service industries that the law impacts, and it would be nice to know that the sauce on our burgers is not contaminated by sneezes from the flu-stricken worker who made it.

This law should function as a stepping stone for greater initiatives such as minimum wage increases.  Once the American people can swallow paid sick leave, it is only a matter of time until they push for something bigger.

As Congress continues to drag its feet on raising the minimum wage, smaller initiatives like paid sick leave in NYC are making progress. If the U.S. is the richest country in the world, it should be able to cover its citizens when they feel their worst.  It’s common sense: You don’t want someone with a cold handling your lunch. The entire idea behind reformist initiatives such as paid sick leave is to use the government to solve large issues like economic inequality.

Small initiatives like these underscore the reformist nature of policies today.  Coming out of the great recession into an economy of stagnation and income inequality, we are looking for solutions.  Instead of turning to something radical like a revolution, we reform ourselves.  Reforms start with paid sick leave, but they shouldn’t end there.  Issues like this should not be conservative or liberal, they should be common sense.

Seth Ellingson ’15 (ellingss@stolaf.edu) is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.

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